News & Analysis

The perception/production gap: WRs and TEs

Dec 25, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (86) is unable to make the catch in the end zone in the second quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Comparing preseason fantasy football ADP with end-of-season results is an exercise in evaluating the fantasy football community, not in evaluating players. It’s a test for how good we are at figuring out value.

Expecting the draft community to be dead right on a given player in a given year is asking too much — the community gets things wrong, and the community should, or else this game we play would be boring. So it’s not that notable if we miss by a fair amount in one year. But if the community misses on a given player or type of player over and over, we can learn something there.

Saturday, I looked at the last six years of ADPs (per Fantasy Football Calculator) compared to end-of-season positional results at the quarterback and running back positions. The comparison assigns “wins” and “losses” to each year — if a player finished the year above his ADP, equal to it, or less than five spots below it, he got a win. If he finished five or more spots worse than his ADP at the end of the year, it was a loss. Today, it’s the same study, but compared to wide receivers and tight ends.

Wide receivers

Antonio Brown, Oakland Raiders

Obviously, the better a player is drafted, the harder it is for him to notch a “win” in this research — a player drafted first overall has to finish fifth or better, while a player drafted 20th can finish anywhere in the top 24 slots. So when I say a player has six wins in the last six years, that’s impressive. But when I note that it’s Brown, who has been drafted as the No. 1 receiver the last four years and top-10 the last five, that’s all the more impressive. Brown has an early ADP of WR8, giving him every chance of keeping his streak going.

A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

Green is as talented as the other top-tier receivers, or close, but his results haven’t been there as much as his peers in recent seasons. He’s missed multiple games in three of the last five seasons and has only had one ADP win over the last five. With the emergence of Tyler Boyd and Andy Dalton’s career somewhat floundering, Green’s ADP of WR13 is a bit depressed this year, but he could still struggle to return value.

Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks

Baldwin outperformed his ADP five years in a row before 2018, including being undrafted every year 2013-2015. And then, when the fantasy community bought all the way in in 2018, he finally disappointed, with injury and underperformance holding him to WR46. The fantasy community has downgraded him accordingly, with his early ADP at WR33, six spots behind teammate Tyler Lockett. If Baldwin is healthy heading into 2019, he could be a value, but he’s not without a helping of risk.

Golden Tate, New York Giants

We reached something of a stasis in Tate’s public perception in recent years. He was drafted 21st in 2018, 23rd in 2017, 24th in 2016, and 22nd in 2015. In three of those four years, and the two preceding years (so, back to 2013), Tate’s results constituted a win. His only loss in our sample was last year, when he finished 28th in a season that was split between Detroit and Philadelphia, and that was in part because his trade put an extra bye week in his schedule. Prorate his 15-game performance over 16 games, and Tate would have had 193.0 PPR points, or WR24 … or one more win on the ledger. Just something to keep in mind when you see Tate’s 2019 ADP of WR37.

Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings
Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings

Diggs has had four years of at least marginal relevance in the fantasy game, Thielen three. Combined, that’s seven player-seasons where these guys have warranted attention, and they are 7-for-7 in wins by this measurement. That was particularly impressive in 2018, when Diggs was drafted 11th and finished as WR11, while Thielen was drafted 14th and finished as WR7. If those two can recreate their 2018 seasons exactly, they’d notch wins again in 2019 by current ADP, with Thielen 10th and Diggs 15th. Do you believe?

Tight ends

Jimmy Graham, Green Bay Packers

When I performed this exercise last offseason, I assigned a loss to any player who finished even one spot worse than his ADP. It was an absurd standard but was informative in some ways itself. And by that standard, the only time in the last five years Graham has beaten his ADP was the 2016 season, when many were worried enough by his patellar tendon tear that he fell in ADP. He had a bad season by any standards other than “tight end is awful” in 2018, though his current ADP of TE17 might be an overcorrection by the market.

Jordan Reed, Washington

Reed is perpetually tantalizing, but as some point we need to see some of that tantalization realized or move on. He’s finished in the top-eight at the position one time in his career (a second-place finish in 2015), and while his 2018 season (drafted TE10, finished TE14) was technically a win by this study, I doubt anyone who drafted Reed last year was happy with how things turned out.

Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

Ertz and Kelce have each been in the league for six years, with Kelce missing his entire rookie 2013 to injury. So in 11 chances they’ve had for a win here, they have … 11 wins. Despite being drafted second and third at the position in 2018, they still improved on it, finishing first and second. Other than Kelce going from TE6 to TE8 in 2014-2015, they’ve held steady or improved their position from one year to the next every year of their careers. There’s not much more room for them to climb now, as the two are going first and second in early ADP among tight ends, but there’s every reason to expect them to finish at or near those levels again.

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